Music Box

by: The Monkees

It's hard not to wonder why the four-disc Music Box even exists. After all, Rhino has not only released definitive reissues of all of the Monkees' studio albums, complete with bonus tracks, but the label has a series devoted to rarities (Missing Links), a single-disc greatest hits album, a double-disc anthology, and another four-disc box, Listen to the Band, which is excellent. So where does that leave Music Box? Well, it is "reconfigured" into a booklike box, which must appeal to somebody, but more importantly, it tries to pull off a nifty trick -- providing an exhaustive overview for the casual listener, while filling in the holes for those serious fans who only have the proper reissued albums. On both counts, this works well. Let's get the basics out of the way: This sounds great, and Andrew Sandoval's liner notes are terrific, particularly the song-by-song breakdown that not only includes the Monkees' reflections, but also those of various producers and songwriters. Then, there's the song selection, which is impeccable for the first three discs, which devote a year each to 1966, 1967, and 1968, blending hits with rarities, album versions, and alternate takes, never once seeming like a sop to collectors. The fourth disc is a little more problematic, just because it spans from 1969 to 1996, containing reunion tracks that some fans may rather not hear, but it still has more than enough minor gems that will please the dedicated. And, when it gets right down to it, Music Box succeeds on two counts: Everyone who needs to plug in gaps will be satisfied with this (plus they'll like the fine flow of the songs) and, more importantly, this is a wonderful choice for anyone looking for a good, thorough overview of the Monkees' best, delving far deeper than the hits. It doesn't really trump Listen to the Band, but it's nearly an equal. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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